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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Text: Fr Stephen Wang at World Communications Day Mass
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Fr Stephen Wang
Fr Stephen Wang gave the following homily during the World Communications Day Mass at the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer and St Thomas More in Chelsea, west London,  last night. 

In the Spring of 1581, Edmund Campion had been in England as a Jesuit missionary for just over a year. Fifteen years earlier he had preached before Queen Elizabeth in Oxford, and now he was in Lancashire on the run from government spies. Between illicit sermons and undercover Masses, Campion was writing a Latin treatise called Decem Rationes, Ten Reasons, in which he set forth the Catholic faith and challenged his compatriots to debate with him.

Kathleen Jones describes what happened when the manuscript was finished: “It was extremely difficult to get this work printed. Eventually the work was carried out on a secret press at the house of Dame Cecilia Stonor in Stonor Park, Berkshire. Lady Stonor was later to die in prison for her part in this enterprise. Owing to a shortage of type, the treatise had to be set one page at a time, and it took half a dozen typesetters (dressed as gentlemen to disarm suspicion) nine weeks to set it.

On Oxford’s Commemoration Sunday, 27 June 1581, four hundred copies were found distributed on the benches of the university church. The publication of Decem Rationes caused a tremendous sensation, and efforts to capture Campion were redoubled” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints, New Full Edition, Liturgical Press, 2000, 12:3).

You can guess why I wanted to re-tell this well-known story today. We’ve come here to celebrate World Communications Day, and by chance we are doing this on the feast of the Martyrs of England and Wales. It provides a wonderful opportunity to connect these two themes of Christian witness and social communication.

The story of Edmund Campion shows us, first of all, that any Christian who wants to witness to their faith beyond their immediate circle of family and friends will need to use the communications media. Not just to use them reluctantly, but to embrace them with a passion. For Campion, this meant the printing press. I love the historical detail that they didn't have enough movable type to set the whole book.

Can you imagine the frustration, and the consequent dedication that was required: to set one page, to print it; then to reshuffle type, and print the next page. Six men holed away in a Berkshire manor house for two months. And then the audacity of smuggling the printed texts into Oxford.

Are we, as the church today, completely engaged with the communications media? Are we realising its potential for good? Are we putting our energy and intelligence into using the media effectively? Our time and people and money? What would Edmund Campion be doing today to communicate his Ten Reasons?

But there is a broader truth to the Decem Rationes controversy. It's not just that Christians should use the media to witness to Christian truth, it's that the very purpose of the communications media is to witness to truth. Not just Christian truth, any truth, the truth of whatever is at hand. You might dismiss this as a romantic fantasy. I'm like Toby Young in his book ‘How to lose friends and alienate people’. He crossed the Atlantic in search of these heroic New York newspapermen, whose only concern was to speak truth to power (and to drink as much as they could in the process). He ended up working on the gossip column at Vanity Fair.

It's easy to be cynical. But my impression of people in the media is that they are still full of idealism. It's just that the ideals get suffocated by other influences. There are the long-term pressures that you might call ‘cultural’ or ‘political’: to turn the news media into an arm of the entertainment industry; to manipulate the media for political or commercial ends, etc. But for you as individuals working in the media the challenges are probably more short term and personal: worries about contracts, budgets, deadlines; editorial pressures from above; tensions between colleagues; worrying about the present project or the future career; the pressure to dumb down, to oversimplify, to sensationalise. The pressure to frame the story in a way that betrays its essential meaning, or to follow a story you know is trivial just because others are following it. All of this makes it difficult on a day-to-day basis to hold on to the ideals that brought you here in the first place. Difficult even to keep to the most basic principle in media ethics: to tell the truth.

It's the same for the Church, especially for her leaders and representatives. We are called to witness to the truth. Not just the truth of Christian faith, but also the truth of the present situation - including our failures and mistakes. Nothing can be gained from hiding the truth. It's only a love of truth, even of difficult truths, that will save us, and will help others to trust us.

So what can we do? Well, here are two thoughts from the Scriptures. First, let's keep our integrity. It doesn't mean we will avoid every compromise, or live up to every one of our ideals. But at the very least let us not go against our conscience in the workplace, and let us make sure that we don't cross that fundamental ethical line of speaking or writing what is not true. St Stephen was killed simply because he told others what he had seen: ‘I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’. He was killed for telling the truth. We may not seek martyrdom, but we can still seek the truth in the highly pressured circumstances of our work.

Second, let's preserve our Christian faith. St Stephen only managed to endure this ordeal because he was filled with the Holy Spirit and because his gaze was fixed on Heaven. I don't mean that you should fall on your knees and gaze into the heavens whenever you have a tense moment in the newsroom. But you need to be rooted in something deeper than the immediate demands being made on you each day. You need to be rooted in your faith. This involves the simplest of decisions: to practice your faith, to pray each day, to speak about your Christian faith with others -- if the moment arises: that you are a Christian, that you are a Catholic, that it matters to you. These aren't obligations or burdens, they are the foundations that make it possible for you to stay steady during all the madness of the working week. They are the same foundations that gave St Edmund Campion the passion he needed to print his subversive text, and the courage to endure his martyrdom.

Fr Stephen Wang blogs about faith and culture at:  www.bridgesandtangents.com
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Tags: Edmund Campion, Fr Stephen Wang, Ten Reasons


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